Tonight, Rangers returned to competitive league action at Bloomfield Road, home of Blackpool. The game, our first in ten days since beating Derby at Pride Park, saw the debut of Liam Miller, our new midfield player. It was also the first time Lee Camp played a league match for QPR this season, owing to a late injury to Radek Cerny. And in answer to all our questions, it was Gavin Mahon who wore the captain`s armband in the absence of long-term absentee, Martin Rowlands.
QPR came into this game on the back of a great away win at Derby and, other than losing the FA Cup 3rd round replay, a series of draws – we have now gone 7 games in the league undefeated! Confidence is clearly high and, with the clever additions of Miller and Routledge, the team is starting to gel and really look like a team capable of going places. And this is without Buzsaky, Vine, Agyemang and Rowlands!
What a game it was! Rangers may have started slowly but grew in confidence and dominance as the game wore on. Goals from Helguson (in either half) and Ephraim (at the end of the game) saw us run out worthy winners, 3 – 0, with Blackpool offering little or nothing in return.
This is not only our 3rd away win of the season, but also our 2nd in as many games. We have now had back-to-back wins and, for the first time in many a season, proudly boast a healthy positive goal difference (ok, so I am getting excited at a +4 goal difference – but when did we last have a positive goal difference?!) This result pushes us up to 7th in the table, on the same points as Cardiff in 6th place, who have a better goal difference than us. And please note, places 5 and 4, currently occupied by Preston and Sheffield United respectively, are only two points ahead of us! Anything`s possible!
Paulo Sousa had to make a late change to the line-up that began our last competitive match at Derby ten days ago. Lee Camp found himself back between the sticks for his first competitive league match for the Rs this season, as a result of a hamstring injury suffered by preferred stopper Radek Cerny. In front of Camp, the defence had a familiar ring to it with Matthew Connolly, Damian Delaney, Damion Stewart and Kaspars Gorkss playing together again.
The midfield had a new face, as Liam Miller made his QPR debut, deputising for the injured Martin Rowlands. Sousa again adopted a 4-5-1 formation. Gavin Mahon and Mikele Leigertwood played alongside Miller across the middle of the park, with Lee Cook and Wayne Routledge running the wings. Heidar Helguson was the lone striker. Dexter Blackstock again started on the bench, along with Hogan Ephraim, Samuel Di Carmine, Fitz Hall and youngster Niki-Lee Bulmer.
Tony Parkes made only one change from the team which beat Birmingham City so convincingly on Saturday. David Vaughan came into the heart of the Seasider`s midfield, alongside David Fox, replacing the injured Keith Southern. DJ Campbell was preferred up front to new signing Krisztian Nemeth, having scored in each of his appearances before this evening, and he was joined by Gary Taylor-Fletcher.
On the bench, Nemeth replace ex-R Daniel Nardiello, who had been on the bench for the Seasiders on Saturday. Alex Baptiste replaced the suspended Claus Jorgensen.
Kick off: Blackpool v Queens Park Rangers
The opening 20 minutes were really all Blackpool`s, although they didn`t really produce any chances that seriously tested Lee Camp, back in goal for his first league game this season for the Hoops. DJ Campbell tested Camp in the opening minutes, but Camp gathered his shot comfortably.
To be honest, Rangers were creating nothing at this stage. Then, suddenly, we went on the break. Helguson found Wayne Routledge with a great, simple ball and when Routledge sent the ball back into the box, Helguson (who had run into the box in anticipation) rose effortlessly at the back post to head the Rs in front. This was Rangers first shot on target – and, boy, did it count! Helguson`s 4th goal for the Hoops had put us in front, really against the run of play, at that point.
Goal: Blackpool 0 – 1 Queens Park Rangers
Within seconds of the re-start, Blackpool were back on the attack but first David Fox`s and then David Vaughan`s long-range shots were well-saved by Camp. This was quickly followed by another shot, this time from DJ Campbell, which again Camp had no problem with.
Rangers were not exactly piling on the pressure, although Gavin Mahon did have a speculative shot from just outside the box, following a good cross from his midfield partner, Leigertwood; but the ball sailed over the right-hand post.
After such a promising start, and despite having more of the possession having failed to score, Blackpool started to become frustrated and their initial threat began to peter out. Chances became fewer and further between, and seemed to be limited to dead ball situations as both sides started conceding unnecessary free kicks.
Routledge was able to torment the ‘Pool defence at times. After about 35 minutes, his menace caused all sorts of difficulties which, if Helguson hadn`t strayed into an offside position, could have brought us our 2nd goal of the evening.
It was not to be and the half petered out with very little of note, except for more of those silly free kicks!
Half time: Blackpool 0 – 1 Queens Park Rangers
The start of the second half was delayed because of the need to find a substitute referee! Blackpool made an immediate change to try to turn the game around, replacing Joe Martin with Graeme Owens. And they won an immediate corner putting the Rs immediately on the defence. Disappointingly, Camp failed to come for the ball, which was flying about high in the air, about 6 yards out; but luckily the referee spotted an infringement against Blackpool and blew for an Rs` free kick.
Rangers were looking very comfortable in the opening minutes of the 2nd half, but took a while to start creating themselves. But when we did get going, we looked unstoppable! Leigertwood took it upon himself, on receiving the ball from Blackpool themselves (!), to curl a deft shot which only just missed the underside of the crossbar.
Miller was then substituted early on by Hogan Ephraim – Sousa probably felt that we needed more presence up front and Miller hadn`t played much competitive football of late. And it certainly worked. Almost immediately, we went on the attack and won a corner. From the corner, Helguson was fouled in the box by ex-R Ian Evatt and the referee did not hesitate. Penalty! Helguson himself stepped up to take the penalty. My nerves were on edge! I closed my eyes – Helguson stepped up and made no mistake. It was a calm and composed finish – his second goal – our second goal!
Goal: Blackpool 0 – 2 Queens Park Rangers
We were now beginning to open Blackpool up with our attacking play. Shortly after the penalty, Routledge brought a fine save out of Blackpool keeper Rachubka. He then followed this up with another chance, but this time he shot straight at Rachubka. Lee Cook had a go, too, beating the offside and receiving a great ball from Leigertwood, only to see his shot go narrowly wide.
Rangers were really not being troubled very much by the Seasiders and Parkes brought both new signing Krisztian Nemeth and Stephen Crainey on to try to change things around for their team.
QPR were knocking the ball around well on the counter-attack, with finesse and great pace on the ball. But they didn`t want to over-commit themselves and leave themselves vulnerable at the back. Mind you, Kaspars Gorkss was winning all the headers and Damion Stewart was sweeping up everything that came his way. Delaney was able to make some telling runs down the left – it seems to have been one of his better games! Connolly didn`t seem to have too much to do, to be honest, but what he had to do, he did well!
Dexter Blackstock was brought on mid-way through the half in a straight swap for Heidar Helguson, depriving the striker of his chance of grabbing a hat-trick tonight. And, unluckily for Blackpool, Stephen Crainey, who had only come on after 63 minutes, had to hobble off after a challenge with Wayne Routledge. Both players went off to have their injuries attended to, but only Routledge returned to the field of play. That left the Seasiders down to 10 men for the final 15 minutes, or so, as they had, by then, used all their substitutes.
Blackpool`s best moment of the match came from Taylor-Fletcher, on about 76 minutes, who had a great chance. In a crowded penalty area, he hit the ball low and hard but, thankfully, it fizzed across the penalty area and went just wide of Camp`s upright. That had to be a wake-up call for the Rs – particularly as Camp was immediately called into action again pushing away Fox`s shot for a corner.
Blackstock then went on a run into the box, following great work from Routledge, where he was brought down, and it looked certain to be a second penalty for the Rs. But Laws just told Blackstock to get up . . . How did he not give a penalty I have to ask?
Blackstock then took a shot from about 18 yards out, following great work from Ephraim, which was deflected onto the underside of the crossbar, trying to make up for the lost penalty. Ephraim himself tried a shot which brought a save out of Rachubka, in the last 7 or 8 minutes. At least we weren`t sitting back and inviting Blackpool to come at us!
Matt Connolly was substituted in the last 5 minutes – Fitz Hall came on in a straight swap. Connolly had played most of the match with a head injury and sported a very fetching bandage! Hall was called immediately in to action, but dealt with the imminent threat with ease.
Blackpool were resorting to hitting long balls and, just after the 4th official put up the board showing 4 minutes extra time, Ephraim put the game beyond the reach of the Seasiders. He slotted the ball calmly and decisively into the bottom left-hand corner of the net for his first goal of the evening, and Rangers` third, having been set up nicely by Lee Cook`s through-ball.
Goal: Blackpool 0 – 3 Queens Park Rangers
There wasn`t much more for the Rs` to do. There were a couple of free kicks and a corner to defend, but they all amounted to nothing. And, when the final whistle went, Rangers were worthy 3-0 winners AWAY at Blackpool. Another commanding performance has brought us our 3rd away win of the season. It is also our 2nd win on the trot and, with results of teams around us going our way, there is definitely an optimistic wind blowing towards Shepherds Bush!
Final whistle: Blackpool 0 – 3 Queens Park Rangers
Blackpool: Paul Rachubka, Ian Evatt, Roy O`Donovan (Nemeth 58), DJ Campbell, David Vaughan, Gary Taylor-Fletcher, David Fox, Joe Martin (Graeme Owens 46), Rob Edwards, Sean Barker, Ian Harte (Crainey 63)
QPR: Lee Camp, Damien Delaney, Damion Stewart, Gavin Mahon, Mikele Leigertwood, Wayne Routledge, Kaspars Gorkss, Lee Cook, Liam Miller, Matthew Connolly (Fitz Hall 88), Heidar Helguson
Lee Camp – 7/10
Lee made a good return to the side although there were one or two times when he remained glued to his goal line, instead of coming out to claim the ball – particularly when it was only 6 yards, or so, out. That is why I haven’t given him a higher rating!
Damien Delaney – 8/10
Had one of his better games both defensively and when bombing down the left. I hope this gives him renewed confidence!
Damion Stewart – 8/10
Another commanding performance. He & Gorkss are almost unstoppable now and it seems that, if Gorkss doesn’t make a header, Stewpeas is there to clean up after him – and vice versa. A great partnership which is the bedrock of our team.
Gavin Mahon – 7/10
I am beginning to think that, the less I hear Mahon’s name mentioned, the better the job he is doing for us! And he even tried his luck with a shot – albeit off target – which shows he is playing with confidence!
Mikele Leigertwood – 9/10
Really was a very dangerous prospect tonight. Created a lot, got into good positions – possibly one of his best performances tonite? Those who actually attended the match could confirm this!
Wayne Routledge – 9/10
He could rate as the buy of the season – he continues to tease and torment defenders; is creative and unafraid to have a go himself. A little better finishing and he could have had a least a brace himself tonight! And what a cross for Helguson to head home from!
Kaspars Gorkss – 8/10
What a great return to Bloomfield Road. He dealt with everything thrown at him (which wasn’t very much, let’s be honest) with ease – probably reminding the Pool fans why they didn’t want him to leave in the first place. And he certainly shut all the ‘boo-boys’ up.
Lee Cook – 8/10
Not quite as creative as Routledge tonight – but not far off. Wasn’t afraid to have a go himself and provided Ephraim with the telling through-ball that gave us our 3rd.
Liam Miller – 6/10
A quiet, unexciting debut, brought to an end at half-time due to lack of match play. He will get better as he gets stronger, I am sure!
Matthew Connolly – 7/10
A game where, when called into action, he did everything he was asked – but he didn’t have very much to do! Played most of the game with a head injury and a very sexy head bandage!
Heidar Helguson – 9/10
My star player – says it all!
SUB: Hogan Ephraim – 9/10
Replaced Liam Miller (46)
Ran his heart out in the 2nd half, helping to torment the Blackpool defence. Wasn’t afraid to have a go when he could and deservedly scored late on, after great work by Lee Cook.
SUB: Dexter Blackstock – 7/10
Replaced Heidar Helguson (74)
Looked eager to add his name to the score sheet. Had a great chance late on and definitely should have had a penalty when brought down in the box. Could probably consider himself unfortunate not to have scored.
Replaced Matthew Connolly (88)
Hall really didn’t have any time to make any difference, one way or another, but I couldn’t leave him out!
Paulo Sousa: 8/10 – Got it right, right, right! Again!! He sent out a very strong team to start with and, although it took them a little while to get going, once they did – boy! Didn’t they do well, to quote Bruce Forsythe? His substitutions were aptly timed – no criticisms here!! He’ll be a very happy man tonight.
Tony Parkes: 4/10 – Although his team selection was virtually identical to that which he made for the Birmingham game last weekend, the team just didn’t amount to anything for him tonight. Maybe they were jaded after their exhausting victory on Saturday – having played much of the 2nd half with only 10 men after Jorgensen saw red. It was a totally ineffective display tonight and his substitutions did absolutely nothing to liven up the Seasiders’ performance, either.
Mr G Laws: 5/10 – The whistle went far too often for my liking. But otherwise, nothing too offensive in the first half. Limped off at half-time to be replaced by:
Mr D Bond: 4/10 – Had a very mixed 2nd half, in my opinion! He was right about the first penalty but bottled the second. He used his whistle as much as Laws had in the 1st half! He booked Routledge absolutely stupidly – Routledge had won the ball well, or so he thought, and jogged off down the line, not hearing the whistle with the cheers of the Rs’ faithful ringing in his ears. So what does Bond do? He books him! And, at the death, how he could just demand that Blackstock get up when he was clearly felled in the box for what should have been another penalty to us, is beyond me.